Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri got a warm reception from county leaders Wednesday, even ask he asked them to beef up his budget next year.
County Commissioners heaped praise on Gualtieri, who led them through a presentation that lasted more than six hours.
And they didn't seem bothered -- or even shocked -- when the sheriff for an additional $5.3 million for pay raises (about a four percent increase).County officials had set a target budget for the Sheriff's Office at about $219 million.
On Wednesday, Gualtieri asked for about $226.4 million (which includes money for the raises, $3.8 million for increased contributions to the state's retirement system, and about $1.7 million for taking over misdemeanor probation services from Salvation Army in the fall.)
"I think four percent is reasonable," said County Commissioner Ken Welch.
During his presentation to commissioners, intended to be as much of an informative session about the agency as well as a discussion about finances, Gualtieri said the Sheriff's Office is grappling with serious staffing issues. The agency's low starting wage has made it difficult to attract new deputies There also no structured pay system in place.
He said the additional money he wants in his next budget is much less that what it would cost to completely fix and overhaul the pay system.
Doing that, he said, would cost about $17 million.
"Our pay plan is a mess. Some might say it's a disaster," Gualtieri said. "I know this isn't the year to totally fix it, but we've got to do something."
County Commissioner Janet Long said she's concerned that if the board doesn't start working on the problem soon, the cost to fix it later will keep growing.
Leaders agreed to study the issue more.
"It's readily apparent this is a major structural issue," County Administrator Bob LaSala said. "We really will need to work over the next six to nine months ... to address this."